Carnegie Expedition 2013 - Day 13 Rendezvous at Wilson Glen (in the Stansmore Range)

Monday, Aug 05, 2013 at 10:00


5th August, 2013,
Wilson Glen

I had expected a lot of wind overnight, howling off the salt pans however, the wind dropped off at dusk and stayed that way. The temperature plummeted though and was so cold that despite his quality sleeping bag, Equinox had to stoke the fire twice during the night just to get enough warmth. Obviously Massie the dog wasn’t keeping him warm enough (or dare I say he wasn't carrying enough 'condition' like me). It was a beaut morning but then isn’t every morning our here! Cool and crisp, the briskness added a degree of clarity to the morning. We had a small fire to warm the bones and a restorative cup of tea. As the sun rose, we wandered down to the ledge of the salt pans to record the beauty of the area before heading west.

Today’s travel was going to be different. For the first time in many days we would be heading along the dune corridors instead of across them. I know Carnegie commented on this change in circumstance back in 1897. We followed the lake around to the west and then entered the dune country again. It was about 44 kilometres to the Stansmore Range and a route had been planned the previous evening while sitting around the fire.

"Shaping our course from the lake (Lake White) towards the highest point in the range, which I named Stansmore Range after poor Charlie, we had the novel and pleasant experience of travelling with, instead of across, the ridges—if only we could have turned the country round at right angles, or changed the North point of the compass, how nice it would have been! As it was, South we must go to get home, and take the ridges as they came; our Westerly course was only temporary. For twenty-seven miles we steered W.b.S., keeping along the trough of two ridges the whole time, seeing nothing on either hand but a high bank of sand covered with the usual vegetation."

David Carnegie - Spinifex and Sand Ch V (1899)

Cresting a dune by the edge of the salt pans, we gained a glimpse of the distant ranges, low and blue on the western horizon. Pointing our machines to our destination, we headed into the dune country once again. The going was very lumpy, the quads hindered by old growth spinifex and twisting and turning through turpentine scrub. The odd patch of burnt country providing momentary respite, the going was tough. After seven kilometres of dunes and narrow corridors we spilled into the chosen corridor, magnificently broad, with dunes separated by a stretch of earth over a kilometre wide. Unfortunately the scrub remained gnarly and difficult forcing us close to dune on the southern side of the corridor. It became apparent that where the corridor begins to rise into the dune, there was a narrow strip of land where the scrub didn’t appear to be as thick. I don’t know if this was wishful thinking but the going certainly looked easier and on investigating, I was pleased to find that I was correct. It provided several kilometres of easier going for John and myself before it all melded into the impossible scrub again.

Leading the charge, Equinox hadn’t looked back to see Jaydub and I riding well behind and off to his left. When the scrub became thick, we lost sight of him all together. I couldn’t locate his quad tracks either forcing a stop so we could try to raise him on the UHF. To better judge the surrounding country, I stood on the quad, now waist high above the thick scrub, I was startled to see a fluorescent yellow shirt bright as day, pop up in the distance. Alan had also climbed up on his quad, so now the both of us appeared to be standing on a carpet of green separated by 300 metres. The value of high visibility clothing in this environment can never be understated.

It took us an hour to complete the first ten kilometres slogging through appalling scrub and it looked as if our 50 kilometres trip was going to take the best part of a day to complete. Then the gods smiled and we struck a magnificent stretch of country that was open, grassy and contained bugger all spinifex. This area had obviously been ravaged by fire allowing the native grasses to re-establish quicker than the spinifex. This change in fortunes increased our speed and I was standing up for over an hour surfing the savannah, steering the quad with nothing more than a shift of my weight to the left or right. It was a sensational ride, punctuated only by the occasional patch of rough stuff. Such was the change in our circumstances that the next hour saw us complete 23 kilometres, over twice that of the first. All too quickly that splendid country came to an end. By the time we were back in the crappy stuff, the Stansmore Range was no longer a small line of hills beckoning blue on the horizon, but rising majestically only 12 kilometres ahead of us.

Wilson Glen is a wide valley that penetrates deep into the Stansmore Range. A wide creek flows east onto the sandy plains. Our plan had been to continue west down the dune corridors until we reached the plain and the creek. Unfortunately the thick scrub was changing our plans and forcing us onto the dunes. We stopped for a morning tea break under a large bloodwood on the top of a dune. The tree provided a respite from the bite of the sun and the elevated position provided a magnificent view towards our destination, now tantalisingly close.

The creek was easily seen, marked by a thick line of tall greenery as it snaked its way across the plain. From a distance out, the creek is wide, flat, and largely overgrown with tall grass and scrub. As we followed it westward we were amazed by the flood debris high on the surrounding dunes, often more than a hundred metres from the creek. At one point, huge bundles of leaf litter, sticks and grass was ten metres higher and 100 metres from the creek. This was a clear indication that a simply frightening body of water had flooded out of the Glen in the recent past.

As we neared the range, it became evident that getting the vehicles to the glen required more thought than anticipated. The southern bank of the creek was incredibly eroded and steep. Sand and the underlying rock had been torn away making sheer walls up to seven metres high. It was apparent that despite the northern side of the creek being benign, any crossing of the creek by the support convoy was going to have to occur at least six kilometres back out on the plain.

"From the range numerous creeks, nine in all, run Eastwards, one of which, I think, reaches the lake, as with field-glass I could follow a serpentine line of gum trees. The rest run out a few miles from their head on to grass-flats timbered with large gums. The hills are of sandstone in layers, dipping to the West; these seem to have been forced up into three-cornered blocks, the faces of which have weathered away on the East side, forming steep slopes of stones and boulders. Between the hills low ridges of sandstone running North and South outcrop only a few feet above the surface, and are separated by strips of white sand timbered with stunted gum trees. The whole scene has a most strange and desolate appearance."

David Carnegie; Spinifex and Sand Ch IV

The mouth of the glen is marked on its southern side by a large conical hill that is incredibly steep sided and one of the highest points in the range. On the northern side, there is a red stony rise with twin peaks that while not as high was equally as rugged. Between the two stood a long shady pool of dark water. The whole area appeared to have been burnt in the recent past so the hills were quite bare with only young, bright green spinifex shooting. A colleague in adventure, Phil Biancih, had visited this area a few years past and had informed Alan that there was an agreeable camp site at the mouth of the glen marked by a large double grindstone. On our arrival at the mouth of the glen, Al was unable to identify if this site had been on the north or south of the creek but only five metres from where we had parked the quads, we found a pile of timber stacked next to a double grindstone of impressive size. Case solved and thanks for the firewood Phil.

We had a poke around the immediate area but knowing the support convoy would be heading our way, crossed into the dune country south of the glen. The dunes here are mountainous, some 30 metres high or more and correspondingly soft preventing the quads getting to the top. We got close though and that was sufficient to get some scratchy reception on the UHF radios. From their transmissions the convoy appeared to be struggling over dunes making their way north, five to six kilometres south of Warri Creek. This put them a good 14 kilometres and 35 sand dunes south of us and from the sound of the conditions they were enduring, a near impossible haul in the remaining daylight. We had a bit of lunch under a shady tree and Jaydub and I made the decision to go out and scout the route to identify a suitable location for them to cross the creek. It sounded like they were having the devils own time though. Following the creek back out on the southern side, we rounded all the dunes out to the east and then reached an open corridor which ran down to the south west. This took us a few kilometres and importantly, put us in a position for a straight line run across the dunes to the location of the vehicles.

After a quick conference at their end, the support crew made the decision to continue north and we met them five dunes to the north of Warri Creek. The dunes, 18-20 metres high and incredibly steep, made it very hard to find a suitable place to cross. The convey were doing OK, and had reduced tyre pressures to cope with the loose sand.John and I simply joined the convoy, escorting them back into the wide SW-NE corridor and headed towards camp.

Torrents of water escaping the glen scoured the sand from around its entrance, exposing the rugged red sandstone beneath. This made for a cautious entry in the fading light and not the best of camp conditions but pretty soon we had all the vehicles squeezed in, camp set up and timber gathered. In no time a meal was underway and we were able to relax and swap tales of the previous days adventures. It was a long day by the time I crawled into the roof top taj. Even a bed of nails would have been welcome.

Authors Note;

Our group are indebted to the Ngururrpa People for their consideration and understanding in allowing us access to their lands.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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